Guest column: This AI storytelling experiment will fail

The writers’ strike is rooted in several existential issues, but it seems like the one everyone wants to talk about is artificial intelligence. It’s new and sexy. The flashing red warning signs from the pioneers in the field only seem to make it more attractive. A few clever quotes from ChatGPT and dollar signs started rolling in the eyes of studio executives. They hope there may be some obvious shortcuts to developing good, or at least workable, stories for their streaming platforms. But I can tell you right away that there are none.

History is one of those things so ubiquitous that everyone thinks it’s simple and obvious. We all know that a story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. We have all understood that the ending of a story should be both surprising and absolutely inevitable. There are untold volumes written on the power of history, dating back millennia. Even Christ himself taught mainly in parables. I could wax poetic about storytelling as meaning for days.

But let’s be honest, nobody in debt to shareholders cares about any of that. We have all seen Succession. But they should care, especially if they want to keep making money. Because with everything learned, analyzed, and written about what makes a story great, there’s still an alchemy to it. There is an unknowable magical factor that can sometimes escape even the most gifted and experienced storytellers. It is this magic that everyone is trying to monetize. The value is in that organic piece that cannot be reverse engineered or commodified no matter how we try.

On pickets the other day, I was chatting with another writer about always taking the time to sleep over a draft before turning it in. Most writers I know recognize a place in the subconscious, more accessible on the fringes of dreams, where plot problems are solved and revolutionary ideas are born. He lives somewhere between a light sleep and a drowsy awakening. It feels spiritual. I don’t know much about technology, but I guess AI doesn’t have it.

A human writer is no match for the speed of artificial intelligence or its ability to replicate images.

Artificial intelligence may allow Joe Schmo to play Iron Man in a customized Marvel film. But Joe Schmo wouldn’t want to be Iron Man in the first place without that first MCU film. That film was born from an alchemical blend of an intelligent script (written by multiple writers), the skillful direction of Favreau and the mischievous charm of Robert Downey, Jr. They reinvigorated the superhero genre with a new tone. And the tone, especially the fresh one, lives on a razor’s edge that can only be seen with an organic and visionary eye. It challenges data and sometimes even logic.

Data is invaluable but it is not creative, even when it is generative. Data can’t tell you what people want, because people don’t even know what people want. If future casting data were accurate, you’d read about it in the metaverse between episodes of your favorite shows on Quibi. I’m not suggesting that writers are psychics, but artists of all types tend to be prognosticators. Studios want what they want, faster and for less money. (Baby, don’t we all?) But it’s called Breaking Story for a reason. The first idea is rarely, if ever, the best. Creating narratives that entertain is hard, mostly communal work that takes as long as it takes.

People engage with the story (or not) based on how it makes them feel. They align themselves with characters they strongly sympathize, root for, or despise. Will people look at some degree of regurgitated nonsense they’ve seen before? Sure, up to a certain point. I have seen every episode of Love is blind. But will they constantly, continuously pay for reduxes? In a world where every household dollar means more than ever, I highly doubt it. One of the Guild signs on the pickets says AI has no childhood trauma. It is not so. And that matters. We turn to stories to see and understand ourselves. Basic storylines and themes might be easy for computers to replicate, but that’s not what studios sell.

If the goal is to make shows that people will enjoy enough to pay for, there’s still an untapped gold mine. The vast majority of storytellers of historically excluded communities have long been overlooked, dismissed, or noted into oblivion by scholarship. The highest profits do not lie in excluding artists, but in untying their hands. Abbott Elementary. Squid game. Everything everywhere all at once. Hits like these happen over and over again, but are considered outliers every time. Stories based on characters, not problems. Characters who fully thrive on independent identity, not whitewashed or otherwise sanitized for mass appeal. Messy. I live. Even if you wanted to build these kinds of projects with AI, there just haven’t been enough of them to create meaningful datasets. Stories rooted in AI will not only be derivative, they will also be racist, cunning, homophobic, and misogynistic.

The head of Warner Discovery paid lip service to the value of human writers the other day, saying that great storytelling comes from great writers. The best creatives, as he called them, would like to work at Warner Discovery in part because of their vast library of intellectual property. (The derivative nature of IP is a different essay for another time, but the AI ​​conversation stems from the same anti-creative, risk-averse line of thinking.) That the vast library he spoke of is built on alchemy of human stories told by human writers. That magical element cannot be replicated and will not be sprinkled on a shoddy imitation. It is fundamental and fundamental or it is not there at all. Eventually, this AI writing experiment will fail. The only question is whether or not it destroys the pipeline of writers and takes the entire industry with it. But if it does, and if the AI ​​were to rage out of control and bring an end to civilization as we know it, the humans who remain will find themselves sitting around fires, telling each other great stories.

Angela L. Harvey is a writer/producer who most recently worked on American Horror Story (and American Horror Stories) and is co-chair of the Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity.

#Guest #column #storytelling #experiment #fail

Leave a Comment